Happy Holidays, New Year, and all that

Happy Mummer Holidays!I’m optimistic, I always have been. So it’s with enormous hope in my heart that I wish everyone the most fabulous of holidays and the absolute best in the New Year. And in case you’re wondering just what the hell this picture means then obviously, you haven’t experienced New Year’s in the greater Philadelphia area.  Nothing will bring you back to the land of the living like twelve hours of struttin’ and string bands. If that doesn’t get you off the couch I don’t know what.

Happy Holidays everyone. See you in 2016!

Rejection, you old bastard

Writers Write!The other day I received in my inbox one of the most eagerly unanticipated of emails – the dreaded rejection. It wasn’t my first, and it most certainly will not be my last. In fact, it was another in a long, and happily broken line of such letters, which at this point in my career, totals well over one hundred. Through the years I’ve received all kinds, reaching back to the pre-electronic era: my own typed query with a rubber-stamped REJECTED across it, thrifty pre-printed postcards tucked into my SASE, crookedly off-centered-Xeroxed form letters, flyers inviting me to partake in the purchase of 1) editorial services, 2) how-to books, 3) seminars, even one with a large NO scribbled across the body of the letter. Of the electronic variety, I’ve received mainly cut-and-paste form emails, some three months after I submitted, to one within the hour. Several of these, especially of late, have been what is popularly known as good rejections, dismissals of a more personal nature, where the sender comments on what they liked and disliked about the work, more often than not praising the writing, but not “falling in love” with the story. Often the sender will point out the subjective nature intrinsic to all rejections, and wish you “the best of luck in finding a home/editor/agent for your novel/project/work.” Although rejections of this ilk are often sent with the kindest of cuts, because of the higher level of expertise the writer has demonstrated by the point, they’re usually the toughest rejections of all to take.

I’ve seen many a writer crumple in despair over such rejections, burn their manuscripts, erase their hard drives, lose themselves in a blurry of cheap liquor and even cheaper chocolate (yours truly suggests burrowing into a Himalaya-size pile of Tater Tots). Many vow to give up writing for good, and sometimes many do, at least temporarily, and often that’s a good thing. Because once the hurt and the anger and the self-deprecation subside, the writer can take a step back and look at the work objectively. Subjectivity aside, editors and agents, more than anything else, are professional readers, and if the work comes back over and over with similar commentary, maybe it’s time to take a look at that particular aspect of the story. In the same vein, the writer also has to consider where the work was sent and the editors’/agents’ preferred genres. Are you submitting mystery when the agent’s preference is sci-fi? Have you sent a novel query to an editor who usually publishes self-help? Have you taken a look at the agent’s clients? The editor’s list? Have you read the acknowledgement pages of works similar to yours to see who the author is thanking? You have? Then good, but let me ask you this: do you have multiple queries out there, or are you placing all of your literary eggs into the basket of one editor/agent?

If you are, you are most certainly setting yourself up for disappointment. Submission should be a very fluid process, and sending to one editor/agent at a time is akin to hitting a stop sign on every corner, causing your writing to lose momentum. For the most part, your writing life should have two very distinct entities – the creative and the practical, and as hard as it is to separate one from the other, the two should never align. Plus if you have multiple queries out there at once, the random rejection tends to lose its sting, and the dismissing editor/agent diminishes in importance. But most of all, you should never, ever let a rejection sink you so low that you lose faith in your abilities, a point where I’ll admit I have found myself. Instead of wallowing in dejection, ask yourself this: Who are these people who wield such power that I allow their judgment to supercede mine? Confidence in your talent will show through in your work, and you should always be exercising your writing muscle. As I tell my students, writers write, and no one was more surprised than me by my reaction to that latest rejection. Sure, it rattled me, but all I could think about was finishing the chapter I had been working on, which I did before I went to bed that night. To me, that meant I had lived through one more rejection, and had come out the other end, still a writer.

A while ago, when I was less confident, I had poured my heart out to my sister over one particularly brutal rejection. She told me of an article she had read in the New York Times about author James Lee Burke, and his fourth novel, The Lost Get-Back Boogie. By his own accounting, the manuscript was rejected by 111 editors over a nine-year period. When it was finally accepted and published, it went on to be nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. It’s now translated all over the world, and has gone into numerous printings. I never forgot that story, and many times it has kept me going. It made me think that one day, if I’m lucky enough, my own tales of desperation and abject failure will rally someone on to success. Only if!


Sex Scenes for Chicks 101

Sex scenes are as integral to spicy romance as whipped cream is to sundaes (or to use-your-imagination), but quantity hardly speaks for quality. A proliferation of ins and outs and seductive banter are only the more apparent components of saucy scene-writing. Truth be told, there should be much more going on before the point of contact than during. A romance writer should never forget to keep an eye on the romance if she’s ever going to make the scene truly sensuous. So how to accomplish it?

Romance is mostly written by and for women, and because of that the prose has to be approached with their sensibilities in mind. Women take their cues from the images they form in their mind as their senses are acted upon, rather than visuals observed as men are more apt to do. This is the greatest difference I’ve noted between sex scenes written by male and female authors, and the biggest flaw when male authors get it wrong. (Not that it’s universal in male authors, as many get it exceedingly right. Ken Follett still writes the best sex scenes of any male author I’ve ever read. To see what I’m talking about, read Night Over Water.) Let me give you an example.

I once read a sex scene written by a man which included the male character receiving stimulation to a very male part of his anatomy. While the prose was quite good and very descriptive, the writer’s observations were not only in the male character’s point of view, but within the confines of a man’s sensibilities. He described the woman’s breasts and her voluptuous figure, as well as her lipsticked mouth gliding up and down him. He also described rather graphically how it looked when his climax reached its er…finish, using some very active verbs and sticky adjectives. I don’t know about you, but I was a tad put off by the scene’s ickiness, and I feel quite safe in saying there would be more than a few women who’d share my opinion. Now, while this would be considered just fine if it were written primarily for a male market, it doesn’t work for women, and I’ll tell you why.

Part of the explanation is obvious, as most heterosexual men would consider a description of a woman’s feminine pulchritude essential, while most heterosexual women would not. But it’s more subtle than that. When writing for a female audience (and I’ve found this point valid with lesbian romance as well),  it’s more important to show not what the woman observes but what the character’s lover reacts to.  Although she may be just as interested in the male’s anatomy and what he does with it, her senses are more roused by the male’s sexual reaction to her. The more arousing he finds the heroine, the more arousing it is for the female reader. Take male-centric scene mentioned above. Written for a female audience it could be just as sexually charged and graphic, but the focus would be more on how excited she felt doing it, as well as how passionate her partner reacted because of it.

Simply put, as far as the males are concerned in female-centric sex scenes, they should always be more aroused by their woman’s reaction to them, than by how they feel by the act alone. Every woman, no matter the shape or looks or age, wants to feel that she alone can cause her lover to lose it, her own uniqueness being the most potent aphrodisiac of them all.


Five Sure Signs the Holidays are about to pop

Bad Ass SantaIt’s December, and not only are the Holidays coming, they’re closer than you think if Hanukkah starts yours next week. If you’re not into either, then you get to bask in the idiocy. As for me, I simply let them rumble past like a runaway train, and if something happens to fall out of the caboose for me, so be it.  But if you believe the concept driving the season is peace and not what piece is for you, then here’s a few hints to let you know just how far behind you are:

1. The Great Work Stoppage – As soon as the Thanksgiving turkey comes out of the oven, it’s as if everyone forgets they have a job. Suddenly all meetings become holiday parties, and if you’re expecting that report to get finished, you might as well call back next year. In my particular milieu, I nearly have to hit my students over the head with their final exam to get them to even remember my name.

2. Vanishing Editors – If you were hoping to get your manuscript sold before the end of the year–ha ha, good one! From now until the end of the year, editors, as well as a fair amount of agents, take a breather and make the rounds of Gotham’s holiday celebrations, where I imagine a fair amount of deal making takes place over the babaganoush. If you’re the writer, think of it as a temporary reprieve from submission angst.Oy to the World!

3. Everything’s on Sale – Back in the day, you used to have to wait until after Christmas to get a price cut, but thanks to retail giants like Wal-Mart and Macy’s, the discounts only get deeper the closer you get to the big day. Which is fine, because if you’re like me, the shopping starts the day before, and I’m all about half-off.

4. The Dread Christmas Sweater – Think about it: if it wasn’t the holidays, would you ever wear that sweater in public? Do you actually like rick-rack, glitter, Rudolph’s battery-operated flashing nose, or cable-knitted Thomas Kinkade reproductions on your chest? So much better to wear the DCS’s less offensive cousins, The Christmas Socks. At least we only have to endure them when you cross your legs.

Creepy Christmas5. “Oh go ahead – it’s the Holidays.” – Which means, go ahead and eat that brandy cheesecake as big as your head. What the hell – you’re on Lipitor anyway, and your blood test isn’t until January. Which also means you can eat half that Hickory Farm’s beef stick, which is my personal holiday no-denial favorite. No fooling, I’m stocking up!

Only twenty-three days left. Get crackin’!